The Baja Divide – Part 2 (Valle de los Cirios)

Vicente Guerrero > Cataviña > El Cardon > Santa Rosaliíta > Misión San Francisco de la Borja > Bahía de los Ángeles > San Rafael > Rancho Piedra Blanca > Vizcaíno > San Ignacio

We rode out of Vicente Guerrero in a relaxed fashion, having looked at the relatively flat profile of the day’s ride and assumed that it wouldn’t provide too much of a challenge compared to the preceding days. We were both feeling a little jaded and Sarah had a bit of a dodgy stomach, probably due to the sudden onslaught of meat which it was suddenly having to process! Whilst we were able to find soya chorizo in some places to provide a bit more filling to our lunchtime tortilla wraps, mostly we had to make do with meat chorizo (accompanied by cheese, avocado and tomato where available and depending how long we were on the road for between resupplies). Also, this was our tenth day on the road, having only taken a single day off at the coast in Eréndira. It was a busy run-up to coming away and we had wanted to take more time off when possible, but there was not a lot to do in Eréndira and the hostel was expensive. Moreover, in the backs of our minds, we had a schedule to keep to, in order to make it to La Paz in our (self-)allotted six weeks and not start eating into our time in South America. Anyway, after a morning of dirt tracks and a lunchtime resupply at the highway town of San Quintin, we headed back towards the coast. The track soon turned to deep sand and we let some pressure out of our tyres in order to stand a chance of riding through/over it.

I got pretty much a completely new bike for this trip. Whilst my previous one had done me proud in South America on my last trip, the unique terrain of Baja almost makes 3″ wide ‘Plus’ tyres a necessity and my old frame didn’t have clearance for these. You can ride the route on slimmer tyres but in the sandier sections, you will struggle to not get bogged down and, once you stop on sand, it’s difficult to get going again; momentum is key. Standard mountain bike tyres are generally in the region of 2-2.4″ and it might not sound like a big step up to 3″, but the difference in overall volume of the tyre is huge. Once you mount this on a wider rim too (ours are 45mm wide as opposed to a more common 20-30mm) and lower the tyre pressure, you have a considerably bigger platform to ride on and immeasurably better flotation on sand. Anyway, this would be our first real test of the bikes on deeper sand and, wow, what a difference it makes! Riding through southern Bolivia on my last trip had thrown up plenty of sandy tracks that immediately swallowed up my 2″ wide tyres and left no option but to push. I was blown away by the ability to ride even through deep sections and, whilst we both came grinding to a stop plenty of times, we were able to keep going through the majority of it. That said, riding on sand tends to be more akin to riding with your brake stuck half-on and large sections of the final 18km stretch that day were deep sand! Absolutely knackering. When we saw a beach-side hotel ahead, we didn’t need to discuss it for long before we decided to take a rest day! Definitely the last time that we would underestimate this route.

After a nice day off, only disturbed by obnoxious American dirt-bikers who thought it’d be funny to set off super-loud bangers at midnight, we set off again. We had a reasonably easy first couple of hours, initially on asphalt and then on a gently snaking track, climbing towards the central spine of Baja. We had done a big stock-up at the turning off the asphalt and had had to load up on a lot of water to get us through the next day and a half (100km). After our previous experience, we weren’t going to get caught short, so loaded up with 17 litres. It soon became clear that this track was not frequented by cars and had suffered a lot of storm damage, with loose, rocky sections that required regular pushing. I think it’s fair to say that Sarah was perhaps less than impressed with this section and I was struggling for energy too. My mood was hardly improved after lunch, when a bee flew between my back and my rucksack and stung me! Fortunately, Sarah was quick to attend and knocked the sting out, saving me too much prolonged discomfort. The climb was pretty sapping, but we were mildly distracted by our first sightings of the region’s famous Cardon cacti, which can grow up to 19 metres tall. We eventually reached the top of the climb about an hour before sunset and started a shallow descent. As we were starting to discover with this route, the tougher sections invariably offer up rewards and the scenery soon transformed, filled with the strangest-looking of trees. I had never heard of or consciously seen a picture of a boojum tree before, but we were suddenly surrounded by these elegant and delicate-looking specimens (which we initially mistook for cacti). Re-reading the route notes, we realised that we had entered the Valle de los Cirios biosphere, which is a protected area home to these beautiful plants and with hugely diverse flora and fauna. ‘Cirios’ is the Spanish for ‘candles’; it’s hardly difficult to see why they have been named such.

We found ourselves a flat piece of ground away from the track and set up camp, careful to ensure that our little fire didn’t send the cirios up in flames!

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